The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Questions and Answers
by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover
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Although the right to privacy is not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court has determined that the right does exist.  In Rebecca Skloot's nonfiction book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Lacks family's right to privacy was violated. How important is the right to privacy? How has the right evolved over time? How has it challenged by emergent technologies? How have groups of people like African Americans, women, and immigrants fought for legislation to protect their right to privacy?

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The Bill of Rights is comprised of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.  The explicit rights to speech, religion, etc., were added to the Constitution subsequent to its original passage.  The U.S. Supreme Court consistently reaffirmed that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee, respectively, the right to be protected against unwarranted or unreasonable searches and seizures of property, and the right to be secure from any laws that would “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . .” do protect the right to privacy.

Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  portrays one family’s efforts at finding the line between the legitimate right to privacy and the public’s “right” to know.  The Lacks case transcended the issue of “right to know” because of the enormous medicinal benefits her surviving tissue provided to the medical world.  Skloot writes about Henrietta Lacks, whose terminal case of cancer...

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